OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Memphis Grizzlies know the team they are chasing to reach the top of the Western Conference.
Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder keep finding ways to stay one step ahead.
Durant scored 36 points and hit the tiebreaking 3-pointer in the final minute to lift the Thunder to a 101-94 victory against Memphis on Friday night in a rematch of their epic Western Conference semifinals series.
One of those games went to triple overtime and another was settled after one extra period.
This one came right down to the wire, too, before Durant scored the final seven points.
``Those guys are the guys that we need to be like, from start to finish,' Grizzlies forward Tony Allen said.
Durant answered Mike Conley's tying 3-pointer by pulling up in front of Rudy Gay for his own 3 from the right wing with 53 seconds left. He added a jumper from the foul line to push the lead to five, then closed out the game by grabbing the rebound on O.J. Mayo's 3-point attempt and hitting two free throws after getting fouled.
``The 3s I was shooting looked good but I was missing,' said Durant, who had missed all five of his previous 3-point attempts.
``It was just a matter of time before one was going to go down for me. I shot the ball right and it was able to go in.'
James Harden scored 10 of his 24 points during Oklahoma City's fourth-quarter rally.
Marc Gasol led Memphis with 24 points and Gay scored 23.
That duo and Durant played the entire second half in a thrilling renewal of the West semifinals won by Oklahoma City last year in seven games.
The Thunder won twice in Memphis this season by a total of eight points, but it was the Grizzlies who were in control most of the way in this one and up 75-65 in the final minute of the third quarter.
Harden engineered a comeback, hitting two 3-pointers and driving for two layups during a 15-4 burst to start the fourth quarter. His drive set up Nick Collison for the go-ahead free throw, and Daequan Cook followed with a jumper from the right side for an 84-81 lead.
The Grizzlies had an answer and were able to claw back and tie it on Conley's 3-pointer from the right side with 1:12 remaining - only for Durant to deliver the knockout punch.
``It's always fun. We always have grind-it-out games against each other, and tonight was another one,' Durant said. ``We dug ourselves a hole early, wasn't playing well, but the second half, we picked it up.'
Russell Westbrook added 21 points and seven assists for the NBA-leading Thunder, the only team other than Chicago to score at least 100 points on Memphis this season. Oklahoma City has done it twice and the Bulls once.
``They're playing like they're more experienced than us right now but at the end of the day, we're still a work in progress and I like the future for this team,' Allen said.
``They've got our number right now.'
It was the only stop at home for the Thunder during a 19-day span featuring eight out of nine on the road.
Allen had 17 points for the Grizzlies, who are also in the midst of playing nine of 12 away from home.
``We started taking too many jump shots as we were coming down the stretch, but my guys played really hard,' Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. ``They left it out there and they didn't have enough in the tank coming down the stretch.'
The Thunder outscored Memphis 32-17 in the final period.
``I think our energy picked up; the crowd got into it. That whole fourth quarter was the way we play basketball,' Harden said.
Memphis used a couple of bizarre steals to fuel a 9-0 run late in the first quarter. Conley came up with a pass that went through Serge Ibaka's legs, and it ended up leading to Gay's two-handed putback dunk on a fast break. On the next trip, Ibaka stepped in the way of Westbrook's pass. Dante Cunningham grabbed the loose ball and fed Mayo for a right-handed transition dunk to make it 23-17.
NOTES: Kendrick Perkins picked up his NBA-leading ninth technical foul of the season with 5:02 left in the first half when he and Gasol got tangled up battling for rebounding position on a 3-pointer that Harden made. Perkins faces a one-game suspension if he gets to 13. The scuffle resulted in Gasol's third technical of the season, all against the Thunder and the second time as part of a double-technical foul tangle with Perkins. ... Westbrook also got his fifth technical for spiking the ball after Allen blocked his shot about two minutes earlier.
The Associated Press News Service
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